An unofficial guide to the Fairplex.
by Galo Pesantes
photography by Lauren Pollard
Millions of people across the region and beyond have been able to connect with it for the last 86 years. It’s known for providing a unique experience of diverse food, attractions, concerts and amusement rides. It seems like whatever the weather, or whatever you feel like doing, you can find your fun at the Los Angeles County Fair, one of the largest county fairs in the world.
But the Pomona Fairplex has grown into so much more than a county fairgrounds. In fact, it is one of the most prolific venues in the area, hosting more than 300 events a year and attracting more than 2 million tourists, fans and enthusiasts. These events range from major year-round activities to day- or weekend-long events. Among them is the birth of the National Hot Rod Association, a prominent sporting event that has called the Fairplex home since 1953. It holds two major races every year at the Pomona Raceway: the Winternationals and the Auto Club of Southern California Finals.
“There’s no question, Southern California is the home of drag racing,” says Michael Padian, public relations manager for the NHRA. “There is a lot of history here. A lot of our drivers know that because they grew up around the area. (Pomona Raceway) is a special place for sure.”
In addition to the Raceway, the Frank Hawley Drag Racing School is held at the Fairplex to train future drivers and up-and-coming stars on the circuit. When the racing is over, people can visit the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, which pays tribute to Parks and the history of the sport. The NHRA Twilight Cruiser events take place at the Museum the first Wednesday of every month and feature pre-1970 vintage vehicles, including hot rods and muscle cars. If that is not enough, the Grand National Roadster Show, the longest running indoor hot rod event in the world, exhibits thousands of exclusive and custom-made hot rods. Auto fanatics have also been able to experience events like the California RV show, the Off Road Expo, the Pomona Auto Swap Meet and the L.A. Roadsters Show.
Along with the RV show, the Fairplex has it own KOA/RV facility as part of the Kampgrounds of America Inc. network, which serves as a camping location for hundreds of tourists and visitors. On the east side of White Avenue, the area offers a mini-market, spa, laundry and shower facilities as well as a clubhouse, recreation room and kitchen. It not only provides convenience to those enjoying the sights and sounds of the fair, but also gives easy and comfortable access to other amenities offered at the Fairplex.
For horse racing fans, Fairplex Park rivals many horse racing venues like those at Hollywood Park, San Anita and Los Alamitos. It hosts several races during the Fair season and serves as a site for thoroughbreds to be trained all year long.
“We are in the perfect place to attract people to horse racing,” says Paul Ryneveld, equine manager for the Pomona Fairplex. “We offer similar racing to those other places and have pretty quality horses.”
The park itself is able to hold over 10,000 visitors. A renovated clubhouse provides inter-track wagering services for races at other venues. Fans can also visit the Top of the Park Restaurant for lunch and dinner and enjoy a panoramic view of the racetrack. Barretts Equine Limited supplies most of the action for the races at Fairplex Park. Their facilities include auctions, shows and a complex for the sale and training of horses. The complex, Hinds Pavilion, is able to seat more than 700, and offers nine barns with room for nearly 500 horses. During Sept. 5-22, racing fever returns to Fairplex Park, as it will again host races in the day and nighttimes.
“We had a really good season last year from a racing standpoint,” Ryneveld says. “This year, we may see some of the better riders in the nations during the final weekend of the season.”
When not catering to events at the raceway or park, the Convention and Exposition Complex sees the majority of trade and consumer shows that travel across the nation. Among these is the Computer Fair, which is held eight times a year, along with competitions, specialty shows and expos, collectible and merchandise shows, dog shows, agricultural and livestock fairs, wine shows, boat shows and various auctions. It also plays host to several festivals, including the Irish Fair and Music Festival, which brings thousands of performers and guests, and the Asian American Expo, which had more than 50,000 people in attendance last year for their festival featuring food, music and art.
The Fairplex also has its share of charitable foundations and causes for children and young people in Pomona and other neighborhoods. The Millard Sheets Center for the Arts offers educational programs and exhibits helping to enrich the meaning and purpose of arts in the lives of children. It holds several events annually, including a gallery that incorporates themes in art and investigates cultural understandings to better serve the community. It intends to reach a broad audience, continuing to carry the advancement of arts in society and culture and teach a diverse program of art, film, music and more.
Another foundation is the Child Development Center, which works with the University of La Verne in providing educational services and child care for children, including those with disabilities.
“Education is a large focus of ours at the Fairplex,” says Wendy Talarico, Fairplex communications and public relations manager. “We partner with area school districts to create these educational programs for children.”
These programs have been especially helpful for low-income families and young people in the surrounding communities. Some of the activities include a literacy program, developmental and parenting programs, childhood experience programs and other workshops. It also boasts the world’s largest classroom, as children are able to explore all the different parts of the fairgrounds.
If you need a bite to eat, look no further than the Fairplex’s oldest restaurant, the Avalon. Originally known as the cafeteria, the original structure of the Avalon was built in 1937. It can accommodate up to 500 people in its meeting and banquet rooms, in addition to its food services. The Avalon serves as the fair’s year-round center for food and beverage operations and offers top quality food and drinks at affordable prices.
Finally, if you are looking for a place to stay overnight while at the Fairplex, look no further than the Sheraton Suites Fairplex Hotel. The facility has more than 11,000 square feet and offers 247 suites. It also has a business center, fitness center and complimentary breakfast service for all guests. The suites are full-size rooms with bedroom and living rooms equipped with kitchens, TV/VCRs and phone services. The hotel can host business meetings and functions in their ballroom and banquet rooms. It’s conveniently located near the Red Gate of the Fairplex’s entrance.
Overall, the Fairplex serves as much more than the place where the Fair is held. It is able to brings thousands of people together to watch an NHRA or horse race, invites RVs to stay the week, offers hundreds of varying shows, expos and conventions, serves the community with many programs and provides facilities for eating and sleeping. The founding members of the L.A. County Fair could have never anticipated that the Pomona Fairplex would grow as much as it has today. Who knows what the future may hold? One thing is for sure: the Fairplex is much more than meets the eye.